“Modern Love” by Beau North
Blurb: “Love at first sight wasn’t meant for millennials,” thinks Alice Aberdeen: art student, recovering addict, David Bowie enthusiast. Alice is among the recently dumped and only wants to keep her nose to the grindstone until she finishes her degree. Her sister has other ideas and sets her up with new-in-town Will Murphy–tall, dark, and aloof. To say it wasn’t an instant attraction is an understatement: He finds her abrasive, with her sharp tongue and don’t-screw-with-me attitude. She thinks he’s excessively reserved, too damn serious. But the more time Alice spends with Will, the more their slow burn begins to thaw her heart. A man of two worlds, half-Irish, half-Indian, Will feels at home with Alice. He soon realizes her tough shell is hiding extensive scar tissue–from her addiction and recovery to her spectacularly bad ex-girlfriend to the loss of her mother. Modern Love isn’t a story about love at first sight but learning to love yourself before being able to see the one you love.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m relatively new to the Contemporary Romance world. From the first time my aunt snuck me a copy of Jude Deveraux’s ‘A Knight in Shining Armor,’ you could always find me with my nose buried in a historical romance novel. From ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Mysteries of Udolpho’ to Sarah MacLean and Maya Rodale, I just couldn’t get enough of a good, old-fashioned historical romp. Even my first two books, one set in the 1940’s and the other in the 1810’s, are firmly rooted in the past. So I was a late bloomer when it came to contemporary romance.
It wasn’t until my friend Shelley Ann Clark got her book,’Have Mercy,’ published by Loveswept that I began to sit up and take notice. At the time I was desperately trying to finish my first novel, ‘Longbourn’s Songbird,’ and wanted to be published so badly that I was instantly excited and consumed with envy. How did this happen? What made her book so special? So I read it, and it was like having a blindfold pulled off…by the sexiest person you’ve ever seen.
What made this experience such a revelation? What was it that made me connect so quickly and so strongly with contemporary romance? When Isabella asked me to name five things I love about contemporary romance, I was ready to go. So here is (in no particular order) five things that made this die-hard historical fan go modern:
- Being rooted in present day make for a more immediately relatable story
- I love forbidding castles and long carriage rides as much as the next girl, but it’s not exactly something I can relate to. These modern-day heroines have modern-day problems, be it making rent on time, getting their kid to daycare or jockeying for a promotion at work. These women aren’t fine, untouchable ladies, they’re us. I wouldn’t be able to parse the problems facing a countess on the cusp of social disgrace, but I do know about crappy waitressing jobs, cranky bosses, trying to finish a semester of college, being stuck working with a jerk (who is actually kind of hot, and maybe I don’t dislike him as much as I thought I did).
- Women are in charge
- While I’ll always love the petticoat adventuresses, princesses in disguise and penniless-but-charming wallflowers, there’s something so satisfying about a romance where an independent, successful woman has choices in her life, and can find some fulfillment beyond a husband and family. I cheer when a woman can laud her own achievements, silence her critics, and be comfortable in her own skin. Extra bonus love goes to stories where the female character is better at her job than her male counterparts. It gives so much more texture to the story, makes the romance that much more satisfying.
- The men have evolved too.
- Hey, we all love a pirate. Or a viking. Or a barbarian. You know what else I love? Consent. The total absence of male fragility. Judgement-free acceptance of a woman’s sexual history, her preferences, and the ability for a male character to accept that it’s not always about him. Maybe his love interest can have a conversation with another male character, and she’s not in danger of being labeled a wanton woman. As much as I love the protective spirit of historical romance heroes, it can be…a little much. A man who is happiest letting a woman just be herself is a man worth keeping.
- Representation matters!
- As much as I LOVE when historical romance revolving around a gay character or one that features an interracial relationship, it’s a lot more difficult to pull of in the 18th century when in many places who you loved could get you arrested, tortured, or killed. And now with the cultural shift of our interconnectivity through social media, we know so much more about ourselves and each other than ever before. I grew up in a tiny, tiny, southern town in the analog days before the internet. I didn’t know what nonbinary or cisgendered meant, because I was uninformed. Now I know better, and I see that there is so much storytelling opportunity for Gay romance, transgender romance, nonbinary romance, even asexual romance! For someone who identifies as any of those things, it must be immensely satisfying to be able to pick up a book and lose yourself in a story with characters that you see yourself in. Everyone deserves that!
- Let’s face it…it’s the sex
- Okay, I’m going to just come out and say it: I really dislike the deflowering-of-maidens parts of historical romance. While I understand that it’s more probable that a young woman in 1805 would be inexperienced in lovemaking, I still tend to skim those parts, just knowing how unlikely it is that this lady’s first time is that enjoyable. I’m happy that this isn’t often a problem in contemporary romance, though I have read my fair share of modern day stories with a virginal heroine, they’re not quite as common. I’m certainly not here to judge you if that’s your thing! Contemporary romance does have the freedom to be open about sex, sexuality, and kink, where historical romance (for the most part) has to stay within the confines of what was known and acceptable at that time. Particularly with any story involving a kink, it’s much more likely that a historical romance will attach some element of bewilderment or shame to it. It’s also liberating to have a character who knows what she (or he!) likes, what pleasures them, and who isn’t embarrassed to ask for—even demand—what feels good.
And since I never do anything by halves, my newfound love of Contemporary Romance inspired me to write my new novella, aptly titled Modern Love. The name, other than being a tip of the hat to modern romances, was inspired by the music of David Bowie. I started writing this book the week he passed away, a few days after his birthday (which was, in fact, a few days after my own birthday). For me, there’s always a great deal of emotion tied in with music. A first dance, the song playing on the radio behind those early, clumsy fumblings of intimacy, a wedding march. In Modern Love, Allie and Will first meet to the sounds of David Bowie, which is where I take you now.
Chanda grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the dance floor where we spun and flailed around. While I’m notoriously bad at it, I love dancing. When you dance, you’re not thinking about your shitty ex or your overdue MFA paperwork or the way your boss likes to hit on you when he gets two beers in. It’s like yoga (only more fun and way less bougie) where you just get boiled down to your most physical self. Move. Breathe. Dance. Your problems are non-existent. You’re not a complex human. You’re biology. And biology doesn’t have problems. Biology just is, so dance. Shimmy like an amoeba under a microscope. Prance like a cat stalking the red dot. Sway like a sapling in high wind. You get the idea.
So, we danced, and because I haven’t an ounce of physical grace, we laughed. Laughed so much my face started to ache. My dumb ex, my bad boss, the pressure of school—all of it went on the back burner as I gulped down the ginger ale Gabe brought us. It was in that moment, when I was feeling pretty good about things, that I ran into a wall, drink-first. Cold ginger ale and half-melted ice cubes spilled everywhere, all over me, the floor, the wall…
“Watch it.” The wall snapped, brushing ice off of his v-neck.
I craned my neck back, my eyes finally lighting on a beautiful face made severe by flinty disapproval. He took my breath away. His glossy black hair curled gently behind his ears, long features softened by thick brows and a silver-flecked beard, incongruously reddish against his olive skin. His frame was broad-shouldered and lean, and if it weren’t for the glare, he’d be a perfect specimen of male beauty. It’d been quite some time since I’d been with anyone (the sex with Jamie became occasional at best well before our relationship ended) let alone a guy, but this one made my neglected libido sit up and take notice.
“My bad,” I said. My fingers twitched towards the soft fabric of his shirt, but I thought better of it and let my hand drop.
“Ugh, perfect,” he said, looking down at the damage. His voice was deep with the telltale flatness of the Midwest. “All I need is to smell like booze all night.”
“It’s ginger ale,” I protested. “I doubt it ruined your Prada.”
His full lips pulled back with a hint of a sneer. “I didn’t realize this was an all-ages show.”
“And I didn’t realize you had to have a stick up your ass to get in the door,” I retorted, bristling. I was twenty-six but often mistaken for younger. It’s frustrating to be underestimated because you happen to have tits and good Scandinavian genes.
He opened his mouth to speak when Gabe ran up to us. “Will! There you are! I see you met Allie.”
“You know this guy?” I asked, incredulous. Maybe he was Gabe’s boss and Gabe had to be nice to him. Gabe was so open, so friendly, so nice. It seemed weird to me that he would be friends with this strange, forbidding man.
“This is my friend Will, don’t you remember? I told you I’d invited a friend…for you to meet…?”
Oh no. No, no, no. I started to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. No wonder Emma had been so adamant I come to the show. She’d been dropping so many hints lately about “getting back out there.” Gabe had the good grace to look embarrassed, at least. There was a pause in the music, enough for me to hear the gorgeous jerk say, “This is who you’ve been talking about?”
Oh well, excuse me for existing. The opening “aaaahs” of “Let’s Dance” started playing, drowning out the end of his question. Gabe pointed at his ear and shouted, “Sorry! Can’t hear you!” He shooed us towards the dance floor before wandering off, leaving me alone with Sir Scowls-a-lot. I was still trying to wrap my head around why Gabe and Emma thought we’d hit it off. Aren’t you supposed to seek balance? One pessimist, one optimist, that sort of thing? Whose bright idea was it to try to pair up two obvious misanthropes?
“I had no idea!” I shouted over the music. “I didn’t ask Gabe to do this!”
The guy, Will, gave me a long look before nodding curtly at me, turning and stalking away without another word.
“You okay?” Chanda asked from behind me. “That guy seemed…intense.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her. She looked at me doubtfully as I excused myself to go to the bathroom. My hands were sticky with ginger ale. The water in the ladies’ bathroom was hot enough to scald, but I washed them anyway, avoiding looking up at my reflection. I felt stupid now, in my costume and makeup, because from the moment I’d locked eyes with Gabe’s sneering friend, I’d felt like a fraud. The whole evening had clearly been a mistake and I wanted nothing more than to go home and curl up on the couch with a jar of Nutella and Jon Stewart. The sooner the better.
Well, that went as badly as anything could. Now here I stand, covered in soda, alone, and hating the world. Pretty much like any other night.
How hard is it to just meet someone at, say, a bookstore? Or at the gym? Or in a cooking class? Isn’t that how every chick flick started? Two sexy people meet, have an equal exchange of appreciating glances and hurled insults, and eventually fall in love?
This scenario shouldn’t have been so much different. I’m new in town, my best friend is dating a nice woman, a leggy ginger who suggests that her sister isn’t seeing anyone and would I like to meet her? Sure, why not. It doesn’t have to be love. It doesn’t have to be anything.
But then I meet her, and it is the worst.
Meet isn’t the right word. Rammed into? Nearly toppled? I didn’t see her; all I saw was Gabe waving at me in that ridiculous getup. And then, splash. And there’s this kid, her face is all flushed, eyes big as saucers in her head. I can’t tell what color they are in this light, but there’s something behind them that I could almost…almost reach. She’s small, flint-eyed and sharp-tongued with a strong don’t-fuck-with-me vibe that doesn’t quite hide the way she stared at me. I’m not blind, I know what I look like. Girls like this never notice the tired circles under my eyes or the angry patches of acne I get under my beard.
When Gabe explains that this is Emma’s sister I want to deck him. What was he thinking? Even if she’s not a kid, she looks enough like one to land me on some kind of sex offender registry. And apart from her looks (which, youth aside, aren’t all that bad) she seems like the kind of girl who’d break your bones, your balls, and your will to live.
From across the room I see her standing at the door, watching people dancing to this impossible-to-dance-to music. Maybe it’s the hangdog expression, but I can see her age better now, and that thing behind her eyes that I couldn’t quite grasp. It’s loneliness, something I’d recognize anywhere. It sets my teeth on edge, and I’m glad when she finally turns and leaves.
The second she’s gone I feel it. A nagging guilt that buzzes in my ear like a mosquito. It says did you have to be such a dickhead?
No. I guess I didn’t.
The second I step out the door the muddy smell of the Mississippi hits me, mixed with exhaust fumes and piss, the perfume of cities. I’m still getting used to this place, not nearly as big as Chicago but bustling enough. Those that welcomed me thus far did so with their trademark “Minnesota Nice,” which seems to me to be grandly self-congratulatory passive aggression. People in other states were nice, why did Minnesotans have to act like they had a trademark on the concept? When I pull out of the public parking garage, the Tesla moves smooth and silent as a snake over the patched asphalt. The condition of the streets here should be a crime.
And there she is, the thin white duchess. Standing at the bus stop, pulling her jacket closer to her. She’s pulled her hair out of its braid and it hangs down her back in a wavy curtain of gold. What the hell, I tell myself and pull up beside her. She looks startled when she sees me behind the wheel. Wary.
“Hey,” I say. Off to the races.
“Can I give you a lift home? I didn’t intend to scare you off back there.”
Her smile is a jackknife that pins me to my seat, balls first. Her eyes glint in the streetlight. “Scare me? You wish, moneybags.”
There’s more that follows, of course, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into Modern Love. Thanks so much for giving it your time!
**About the author, Beau North: Beau is a native southerner who now calls Portland, Oregon home with her husband and two cats. She attended the University of South Carolina where she began a lifelong obsession with English Literature. In her spare time, Beau is the brains behind Rhymes With Nerdy, an internet collective focused on pop culture.
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